Ah, youth, that fickle force in politics. Young people bring energy, passion, creativity and technical wizardry to the presidential campaign — everything, it seems, except impact on Election Day.

With their Web logs, Facebook profiles and college rallies, the 2008 presidential candidates are lavishing attention on a group that displays unbridled enthusiasm early in the campaign but tends to lose interest when the voting starts.

For all the star-studded voter registration drives featuring the likes of Madonna and Sean “Diddy” Combs, more than half of the people in the United States age 18 to 24 who are eligible to vote typically are no-shows on Election Day. By comparison, some 70 percent of those 45 and older cast their ballots, according to the Census Bureau.

So while young people are front and center in spreading the word on candidates, it still is the Sinatra generation that is rockin’ the vote.

“We have a long way to go,” said Ben Unger, field director for PIRG New Voters Project. “Even if we had an equally engaged population as senior citizens, there’s tons of room to be made up.” One impediment: People 18 to 24 are highly mobile and hard to reach even with relaxed absentee balloting rules.

Voter turnout among young people rose in the 2004 election to 47 percent from 36 percent in 2000. It is an increase in motivation that candidates hope will build this time and last until November 2008.

“This election means a lot for young people,” Republican Mitt Romney said in a recent interview. “This election will set a course that determines whether America remans the economic leader, the innovation leader of the world. Young people have the biggest stake in our future.”

In the interview, Romney, 59, was not aware that he had a profile on Facebook.com, the social networking Web site with some 10 million users; an aide assured him that he did.

The profile highlights the former Massachusetts governor’s interests (skiing, running, spending time with family, especially grandchildren) and favorite music (Roy Orbison, the Beatles, the Eagles).

The profile has encouraged supporters to form their own groups, “My Man Mitt,” “College Students for Mitt Romney,” and “Mitt for Michigan,” among others.

One Facebook group backing Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has more than 300,000 members. It was Facebook that helped turn out several thousand people at a rally for the Illinois senator at George Mason University in Virginia several weeks ago.

Joe Trippi, the Internet savvy campaign manager of Democrat Howard Dean’s 2004 White House bid, said there was no way the Obama campaign alone could have organized an event that drew 3,000 at such an early stage in the campaign.

Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said much interest in the 45-year-old candidate among younger voters, particularly the activity on the Internet, has sprung up independent of the campaign. “Our task as a campaign is to find ways to embrace this grassroots enthusiasm and channel it,” he said.

Republican John McCain’s outreach to younger voters includes establishing an online social network called McCainSpace where supporters can create their own pages and connect with one another. The 70-year-old Arizona senator chose to appear on “Late Night with David Letterman” to announce plans to make his presidential bid official.

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